from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

For twentytwo years . . . and more 

cross-posted from Daily Kos

December 29, 1985. It was a Sunday. For December it was crisp, but not too cold. It began with attendance at church, although we arrived for the morning services separately. It was a day full of family and friends. It was our wedding day. Kenneth Bernstein was not yet teacherken, but that marriage to the woman who posts here (too infrequently) as Leaves on the Current is the major reason that I became a teacher, and also a strong influence on my attempting to write.

I have written before about what the marriage upon which we embarked that day has meant to me, most notably two years ago in How does one measure a life?. I choose this anniversary to repost that in its entirely below the fold, and then add only a few additional words.

How does one measure a life?

I will not try to make that determination for anyone else. But today, I have no doubt how I will measure mine. For twenty years ago, more than a third of my life, I was blessed to be joined in marriage with my eternal partner, known here as Leaves on the Current. That I participate here is due in no small part to our relationship, so please indulge me as I make this small verbal offering in her honor.

Our relationship is much older. I first noticed her when as a teenager she visited one of my music classes at Haverford with the wife of one of my professors. She finds this hard to believe, but when I described what she wore and how she looked she acknowledged it was possible. But our first conversation was an an early Easter morning at the Episcopal church where I had just been baptized. She did not know that I had been watching her, a senior at an elite (then all-girls) prep school. My very first words to here were "so when are you going to discover boys" and her response was "Why, when I go to Harvard, of course."
Others noticed my watching her, but our relationship did not begin until the following fall, when I encountered her at a suburban train station. We we going in to the city, where she was going to catch another train out to her home. But our train was late, and she missed her connection, so I took her out for a piece of pie and cup of coffee. It was not our first date, that would be six days later when I took her out for dinner, but we mark the beginning of our relationship as of that day, September 21, 1974. She was 17, and taking a year off before Harvard to seriously study ballet, I was 28 and working in data processing and living in a rented room.

Within a few weeks it was clear that we were in love with one another. If I may steal some lines from the wonderful Sally Fields - James Garner movie, "Murphy's Romance", she was in love for the first time in her life, me for the last.

We had that year before she went off to Harvard. Then there were 4 years of my commuting to Cambridge Mass once or twice a month, followed by 3 years of greater separation while she attended Oxford with a Marshall Scholarship. We became each others closest friend and trusted confidant, but because our time together was so precious and limited we postponed some of the hard work at making a relationship work. Finally in 1982 we were in the same city and we really had to work on the relationship.

We moved to Arlington Virginia, and finally on December 29, 1985, several hundred people came to watch us get married, and then joined us at our reception at historic Oatlands Plantation near Leesburg, still decorated for the holidays.

We are both difficult people, but I am much more so. I do not really believe in myself. I am actually fairly shy, although an extravert, and easily get depressed. I worry that I am not making a difference. And here I am married to this very attractive, and brilliant and charming, young lady. In Myers-Briggs terms we probably should clash -- she is an INFJ, me an ENFP, with both the extraversion and perceptor qualities to the extreme. She is a neatnik, I am not, she is more oriented towards cats, me towards dogs, she late night me very early morning (probably a product in my case both of rising at 5 to practice piano before school as a teen and far too many days spent in monasteries as an adult).

And yet - as in any relationship there is commonality. We both love music, although our tastes do not always overlap (I draw the line at New Age, and except for Mary Chapin Carpenter and Willie Nelson she has little tolerance for Country). I was a music major in college yet discovered early in our relationship that she probably knew more abut Beethoven than did I. When she shared her high school yearbook picture with the accompanying quote she was surprised that I could recognize the passage and name the T S Eliot poem from which it came.

It may seem strange that I would take the time to write and post something like this on a blog that is devoted mainly to political issues. Bear with me. There is a reason for this.

It was Leaves who encouraged me to take the chance and get involved in the (abortive) campaign of Fritz Hollings for president in 1983, and who has always been supportive of my subsequent volunteering for campaigns, local, state and (Howard Dean) national. She encouraged me to write my thoughts, and I would not have begun blogging except that she insisted that my ideas and insights were worth sharing with others.

We do not always agree. For example, when I began to pursue the idea of doctoral studies in education she did not understand why I would want to do it. When I got a free ride for 3 years from Catholic, she became very supportive. When I decided to withdraw with a dissertation proposal almost complete, she - who had taken more than a decade to do her doctorate on a part-time basis - could not understand why I went so far and did not complete it. But as she has seen my writing on education in other fora she has accepted and supported the decision I made (even though she will periodically remind me that the university would probably love to have me back). She was very supportive last year when I took on the extra burden of work for my national board certification as a teacher, and bought me a bottle of champagne to celebrate when I found out I had passed.

Leaves is a superb editor -- often I wish that she were available to review what I write before I post it. I assure you there would be far fewer typos...and even fewer infelicities of expression! But it is not that which I value most. Not her skill as writer, which I greatly envy, not her superb intellect, which she has applied in many different arenas -- as a writer on dance, the environment, politics, religion.

No -- what I want to pay tribute to on this day is her soul, her heart in the old sense of that word. She is incredibly caring. I am an exceedingly difficult person, and yet as the years have passed she has made it absolutely clear that nothing I could say or do would ever cause her to stop loving me. In my moments of deep depression and despair (of which over the past 30+ years there have been far too many) she has always been there.

As I struggle to find balance in my life, she may not always understand where I am going, but she will try to help, to accompany me as far as I will allow her, and even then keep going.

I was able to become a teacher, to take the better part of a year off to get my training, because she increased how much she worked, taking time away from her own interests, in order to make it possible for me to explore an idea that was not completely formed.

Her caring shows in the time she makes for her nieces and nephews. particular one nephew having a difficult time whom yesterday she took to see Nutcracker. It is evident in the love she showed toward our Sheltie when Espeth was getting elderly - not a dog person, she warmed and her heart melted. It is obvious when a cat curls on her lap and she will give that priority over anything else she had planned.

Her heart and soul come out in her passion for preserving the environment, and her willingness to work against the death penalty, even standing in silent vigil as an execution took place in Jarratt, Virginia at the Greenville Correctional center. Her depth of feeling is in her poetry (which she does not often share). Some have even seen it in her few posts at dailykos.

Ours is a partnership -- I provide some structure in day to day things at which she is not so skilled (such as changing light bulbs -- she is not always the most practical -- and I do most of the shopping and almost all of what cooking occurs), and I have been able to serve as a sounding board for some of her ideas, and review some of her writing to help her. I have encouraged her intellectual pursuits as she has encouraged mine, to the point where it is not clear where we will put any more books in this house.

We often talk about political and social issues. This has been true for our entire relationship. We both see that we have a responsibility for a larger world. It was as a result of the comments I would make in these discussions, or when we would watch various talking heads shows, that led Leaves to encourage me to write down my thoughts and insights for a larger audience. So if you do not like what I post here, she is at least partly to blame.

Tonight I will take her to our favorite restaurant, reserved nowadays for truly special occasions. We will drive more than an hour into Rappahannock County for a late dinner at the superb Inn at Little Washington. It has been several years since our last visit. We both appreciate good food, and the ambiance is truly superb and appropriate for a reflective evening like this.

I am posting this very early in the morning, because I want the rest of this day free to be with Leaves on the Current, my partner for all eternity. I will not be online that much today. People may ignore this, or may comment as they see fit. I offer this to honor Leaves, to be sure. But I also offer it in another spirit -- many here are able to participate in this electronic community because of the support of other people. We may have spouses, parents, children, friends, significant others with two up to four feet, who tolerate or even actively encourage our participation. In our passionate involvement here, I hope we all take time to give them the thanks for the support they give us, both in our endeavors here and in all else we share in life.

I am having a very happy 20th wedding anniversary.

That diary was posted 40 some odd minutes after Midnight, two years ago. Then, like now, Leaves was not with me for the start of our anniversary. Each year on December 28 she takes her sisters' children for an outing to Cape May. That year she was driving down in the very early hours, as she had also planned to do this morning. This year she got caught in traffic because of an accident, and it was so late that she decided to stay over and come down around midday. We will have to decide then how we are going to spend the day together. When I was younger than my current 61+ and even more insecure, I would have been at least annoyed. But in our now 33+ years together I know that the love she shares with nieces and nephews, and with her mother now in assisted living or the hospital depending upon her condition, in no way diminishes her love for me. I have seen how loving more people deepens her ability to love me, and that has served as a meaningful for example for my own opening up. I have always been deeply caring, but in some ways my heart was like a clenched fist, expecting to be hurt. How much more gracious and enjoyable life is when the fingers unfurl, open up to stroke and be stroked by the emotional touch of others.

My words are insufficient to express how I feel. Even after more than three decades together, I am still not as gracious as I would like be, as affirming directly to her as I should be. Like all of us I carry baggage from previous parts of my life - growing up in a dysfunctional family which had trouble verbalizing expressions of love and affection are still a major problem for me. And I am shy, especially about things that matter. Sometimes I can only express the depths of what I feel indirectly.

All I can add to that diary of two years ago is that I am still searching for words to express how appreciative I am of the sustaining love Leaves still gives me. If in any way I have grown as a person, it would not have been possible absent the irrevocable love she has given me.

It is appropriate for me to post this in politically oriented fora (plural) because absent a love that assures me I have something of value to offer others it is unlikely that I would be willing to participate in the activities I do - our ongoing relationship reminds me that as I have been enriched, encouraged to explore and take risks to help improve the world in which I live, I should offer whatever it is I have for the benefit of others.

Please consider this reposting of an earlier diary as one part of the gift I offer Leaves on the Current on this the 22nd anniversary of our wedding. Often the best gift we can give others is to give of ourself to some third party in their honor. Leaves has taught me that through how she lives her life. I am still learning that.

At some point later today Leaves will read this. And maybe then I will be able to say more directly what this diary intents.

I am eternally grateful that you came into my life. I am even more appreciative that you have committed to me for all eternity.

So I say publicly what I so often have trouble saying privately.

I love you.


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